FAIRFIELD — With a stiff and frigid wind blowing across the field at Notre Dame-Fairfield on Saturday afternoon, teamwork was going to be paramount to control the CIAC Class S boys soccer quarterfinals.
The host Lancers made it work, both with that wind in the first half and against it in the second, to reach their second semifinal in three years with a 3-0 win over Cromwell.
“The kids are playing well,” Lancers coach Whitey Budreckas said. “They started to realize that a team has to play as a team. They look much better. (When) they play individually, you’re never going to win many games.”
The ninth-seeded Lancers dominated possession time in the first half, grabbing a lead with 4:58 left. Two late goals put it away in a little more even second half.
“We got beat by a better team. It’s that simple,” said Cromwell coach Matt Ayotte, whose 16th-seeded Panthers finished 10-8-2.
“We played the No. 1 seed (Lyman Memorial, a 2-1 Cromwell win on Thursday) our last game and played really hard, played really well. We didn’t have the same energy today. You could see it. It’s a tough way to go out, but only one team gets to win at the end.”
That was ninth-seeded Notre Dame-Fairfield (12-4-4), which advances to face fourth-seeded Morgan (16-2-2) in Wednesday’s semifinals at a site and time to be announced. The Huskies beat 12th-seeded Canton 3-1 Saturday morning.
“It’s amazing,” Notre Dame senior Sean Buzzee said.
“It’s do or die,” classmate Connor Steer said.
Dylan Wade had a goal and an assist in the second half, setting up Jason Lopez in the box with 12:29 left off a turnover and putting a penalty kick into the top-right corner with 2:48 left to seal it.
Despite the possession disparity, Cromwell might’ve had the best scoring chance of the first 35 minutes after the Panthers turned around a Lancers turnover near midfield quickly. Notre Dame keeper Marcelo DeSouza leaped to his left to stop Cromwell’s Nate Sousa in the 14th minute.
The Lancers took the lead on Carlos Alfaro’s strike from above the top of the box. Cromwell keeper James Grodzicki had nearly controlled the ball a moment earlier, but a teammate ran into him, and Alfaro intercepted the Panthers’ clearing attempt.
“(We kept) our composure after scoring the first goal,” Lancers senior Kevin Morataya said. “Usually after one we relax. After that, we just have to keep going.”
Notre Dame outshot Cromwell 8-2 in the first half. Budreckas credited the Lancers’ midfielders for controlling play.
“They worked the ball up the field really well. They found gaps to get us corner kicks,” Wade said.
Notre Dame didn’t qualify for last year’s tournament, a year after reaching the first semifinal in school history, a 3-2 Old Saybrook win at West Haven.
Cromwell was looking to get back to the semifinals for the first time since 2014, a year after the school won its fourth state title.
“It was a tough year. We had a senior class that was a little divided when we started. Some of them bought in, some didn’t,” Ayotte said. “Overall, we made it to here, so I guess it’s a success. It’s not what I’d like.”